Different Game, Similar Problems

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina lost its ACC opener 22-20 to Virginia Saturday afternoon despite a second half comeback that fell just a two-point conversion short. After reviewing the game tape, head coach Butch Davis shared his opinions during his Sunday teleconference.

"There are so many things that are going right, some things that we're doing well, but there's some things that we're not doing well," Davis said. "Most importantly, we're not protecting the football. That has hurt us dramatically in these last two ball games."

After losing the turnover battle last weekend against East Carolina, the Tar Heels handed the ball over to Cavs on three different occasions without forcing any turnovers of their own.

Both teams had 10 possessions on Saturday and coughing up three of those drives put this young squad in difficult positions. To make matters worse, North Carolina turned the ball over each time in UVa territory.

"So instead of getting points, we gave away opportunities and it puts our defense back on the field," Davis said.

Those turnovers hurt the lopsided UVa time of possession edge (39:14 to 20:46), but allowing running back Cedric Peerman 186 yards and a touchdown on 30 carries was the primary culprit in the time discrepancy.

A number of those yards were gained after contact, as poor tackling afflicted the North Carolina defense for a second consecutive week. Davis indicated that tackling is more physical than mental and that proper technique is also a key ingredient.

"Tackling is passion, it's want-to, it's getting off the blocks [and] it's also being in the right place so that you're in position to make the tackle," Davis said. "And it's a group thing. If a really talented athlete has the football, it's tough sometimes for one guy to get one really good athlete down in space, and that's why you've got to have a swarming, gang-tackling mentality."

The UVa quarterback tandem of Jameel Sewell and Peter Lalich combined for 153 yards on 18 of 27 passing, providing just enough of an aerial threat to prevent the Tar Heels from loading up the box to stop the run. Davis put the blame for the secondary concerns on his broad shoulders.

"We've got to do a better job as a coaching staff to get some of the coverages across to the guys so that they can put themselves in a position to be in the right place," Davis said.

The Tar Heel rushing attack remained stagnant on Saturday, as red-shirt freshman Johnny White took the majority of the snaps, but still only managed 60 yards on 16 carries. Davis believes more repetitions are a necessity for the inexperienced offensive backfield.

"You have to see things more than just one time to realize that ‘You know what, I should have cut that one back' or ‘I should cut that one to the outside' or ‘I should stayed in the hole – I was a little impatient,'" Davis said. "Some of those are just growing pains we're trying to work through... and we're trying to give them enough opportunities to learn from that experience. If you don't give them a chance, then they're just not going to learn it."

One bright spot for the Tar Heels was the re-emergence of wide receiver Hakeem Nicks. One week removed from numerous drops in Greenville, the sophomore caught seven passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. He also provided the highlight of the day, dragging two UVa defenders five yards into the end zone to complete a 53-yard scoring pass play.

"He had a phenomenal game," Davis said. "That one individual catch that he had for a touchdown – I told Hakeem after the game and I think I mentioned it at the press conference – was one of the most inspirational, great individual efforts to try to get into the end zone."

North Carolina has no time to languish over missed opportunities, as the Tar Heels travel to Tampa, Fla. on Saturday to face their first top-25 opponent – the South Florida Bulls.

"As young and inexperienced as this football team is, it's truly one game at a time," Davis said.

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